Characterizing copper and zinc content in forested wetland soils of North Carolina, USA

Environ Monit Assess. 2021 Nov 30;193(12):851. doi: 10.1007/s10661-021-09618-6.


Wetlands are often located in landscape positions where they receive runoff or floodwaters, which may contain toxic trace metals and other pollutants from anthropogenic sources. Over time, this can lead to the accumulation of potentially harmful levels of metals in wetlands soils. To assess the potential risk of Cu and Zn buildup in wetland soils in North Carolina, soil data from 88 wetlands were analyzed. In a subset of 16 wetlands, more intensive sampling was conducted. Samples were analyzed for Mehlich 3 Cu and Zn, and a subset of the samples was analyzed for total Cu and Zn. Overall, Mehlich 3 Cu and Zn were low, with mean values of 0.9 mg/kg for Cu and 3.2 mg/kg for Zn. Warning levels for Mehlich 3 Zn were only exceeded in three of the 88 sites; elevated Mehlich Cu was not observed. Total Cu and Zn were also low, with only a few sites having elevated levels; however, there was not a strong linear relationship between Mehlich 3 and total metals. Mean levels of Mehlich 3 Cu and Zn in wetlands were much lower than for human-impacted upland soils and background threshold concentrations that might be indicative of disturbance were much lower than warning levels for agricultural soils. The very low mobile Zn and Cu in most of these wetlands indicated that these metals do not pose a risk to the biota in most North Carolina wetlands, but wetlands with a direct and significant anthropogenic source of metal contamination could be exceptions.

Keywords: Ambient monitoring; Background thresholds; Soil contamination; Wetlands.

MeSH terms

  • Copper / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy* / analysis
  • North Carolina
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants* / analysis
  • Wetlands
  • Zinc / analysis


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Copper
  • Zinc